14 Jun 2021

4 reasons to use a professional interpreter when navigating the asylum process

To mark Refugee Week from 14-20 June, ITI Corporate Community member Clear Voice Interpreting Services explain why it is so important that professional interpreters are used within the asylum process and how their role is more than just about communicating words.  

1. You’ll better understand each other

The first reason to use a professional interpreter is simply that you and your client, student, employee, or anyone else you are communicating with, will be able to better understand one another.

This may feel like an obvious point, but it is a crucial one. In order to offer the correct support, you need to be able to quickly and effectively identify the issue being raised or the message being communicated. This enables you to respond in a time-efficient way, which is particularly crucial in high-emotion or crisis situations.

It’s important to note that the need for an interpreter may not always be immediately apparent. It is always advisable to offer an interpreter to your client to see if they would like to request one. You might also want to involve some support if the responses you are getting are very limited, you are finding it difficult to understand your client, you don’t feel they are fully understanding your questions or it is a particularly stressful or complex situation.

If you use an interpreter and, as the conversation progresses, you find you no long need their service, you can always ask them to step back from the conversation, but if you don’t involve an interpreter at the right stage you could be missing vital information or causing your client additional stress.

The benefits of using a professional interpreter, go beyond just understanding the words spoken. Let us now look at these less obvious advantages...

2. It helps you overcome the cultural barrier, as well as the language barrier

If people are talking to us in a language we understand, we will understand them... right?

Not necessarily. As humans, our context and frames of references all differ, which can cause confusion. A professional interpreter can bring skills to the table which help you navigate these challenges.

Culture may well be an aspect of interpreting that you haven't considered before, but it is not an usual idea. Some organisations now use what they term cultural mediation - recognising that inter-cultural communication goes beyond just language.

The meaning of messages is not contained just in the words being spoken, but the entire cultural context and background of the person speaking. A cultural mediator transfers all cultural content including language in an intercultural interaction to make a human situation clear.’ - Belgrade’s 2020 Protection Through Cultural Mediation Handbook

3. It creates a safer space

We are all the same - having someone who speaks our language makes us feel safer in the space and, by extension, more confident in sharing.

Confidence is key when it comes to open conversations; you need to create an environment in which all the necessary information is freely shared so you can effectively support people.

As soon as we feel we are not being understood, we lose confidence. The stakes go up, in some situations far more than others - if you are trying to access crisis support, for instance, and feel you can’t make yourself understood, there is a high risk associated with not getting the help you need. This situation can breed fear, anger, desperation and sadness - none of which are emotions we want to inflict on the people we are supporting.

By using a professional interpreter, you are creating a safe space in which you are clearly saying ‘I want to understand you, and I am going to take the time to do so’. This removes many of the negative emotions that are detrimental to confidence and helps you to gain the crucial information you need.

4. You can lay your trust in a professional interpreter

As opposed to using an informal interpreter, such as a friend or family member, using professional interpreters (particularly via a trusted agency) offers a much safer option in terms of safeguarding. What’s more, they bring their extensive training and preparation to the table, something which is particularly important in difficult conversations.

Clear Voice for example, offer interpreters that are trained specifically to deal with high-emotion cases, such as sexual abuse or drug addiction. An informal interpreter may not have the experience necessary to deal with these scenarios, which could impact negatively on the quality of the communication, as well as the mental health of the interpreter themselves.

Similarly, other interpreters specialise in certain areas. Clear Voice, for instance, have LBGTQ-friendly interpreters who have specific knowledge in this area. This is particularly important when you consider that different languages may use words related to sexuality that don’t have a direct translation in English, or vice versa, or they may have no words to describe what they are trying to communicate at all. An interpreter who understands this can help to communicate these key pieces of information.

It’s important here to remember the point raised earlier about cultural mediation. If, for instance, someone shares an emotional story with you, but the informal interpreter is part of a community where this is considered normal or not worthy of sympathy, this can alienate the person you are trying to support. And the worst bit? You don’t even know what the interpreter has said to them! So, you continue, unaware that a line of conversation has been shut down. Professional interpreters have the context of both cultures to work with, which gives them the ability to facilitate communication highly effectively

Refugee Week is a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Founded in 1998 and held every year around World Refugee Day on the 20 June, Refugee Week is also a growing global movement. Find out more at their website.

About Clear Voice Interpreting Services

Clear Voice Interpreting Services have been providing charities, public sector organisations and UK businesses with spoken interpreting services for over 14 years. They are a social enterprise whose profits go to supporting asylum seekers and victims of modern slavery.

Clear Voice supply services to a broad customer base, including many organisations that support vulnerable adults and specialise in on demand telephone and in-app interpreting and face to face appointments. With over 600 UK based interpreters and access to 6000 interpreters globally, they can provide over 200 languages 24/7.